Diary – Monday 10 July 1995


Poor old Virginia Bottomley. No sooner is she relieved of her mantle as bogeywoman in chief of the national Health Service – a job most people considered to be the bane of her existence – than she is transferred to the Department of National Heritage, and the jokes and anecdotes about her ignorance of cultural matters start doing the rounds.

The best story I’ve come across was an overheard conversation from the mid-Eighties. Mrs Bottomley encountered the academic and artistic guru Sir Claus Moser, eminent chairman of the Royal Opera House.

“So, Sir Claus, what do you do?” inquired la Bottomley. Sir Claus explained that he had given up his work in government statistics to concentrate on looking after Covent Garden. “How very, very interesting,” said Virginia, vaguely recalling that the fruit and veg market had just moved to Nine Elms. “Has it changed much since it moved south of the river?”

John Redwood may have lost the leadership election, but one facet of his campaign is accumulating iconic status among the Tory right. I refer to That Blazer. The monstrous multicoloured stripy number, the Old Wellingtonian’s blazer donned by Tony Marlow, the Tory MP for Northampton, whose girth, alongside Teresa Gorman’s emerald suit, provided the garish background scenery for Mr Redwood’s historic first press conference. Astonishingly, despite the lampooning of Mr Marlow’s lack of dress sense in the press, blazer sales are subsequently up at The Wellington College Shop. “When I watched the Redwood campaign and saw the old boys’ blazer, I thought it could have interesting repercussions,” says the school’s salesman, “and, sure enough, there has been a burst of inquiries and sales. Things are looking up.”

Potential purchasers might wish to know that the blazer – which is black with yellow, light blue, orange and amber stripes – costs a mere pounds 94.99, and availability is not restricted to OWs. Despite all the criticisms, Mr Marlow tells me he thoroughly enjoyed wearing it. He has every intention of wearing it again. “I wore it,” he says, “because I felt like a bit of fun. I am fed up with the tyranny of the suit.”

I have encountered for the first time Auberon Waugh, acerbic columnist and son of the late novelist and staunch Roman Catholic Evelyn Waugh. We chatted last week about the merits of audio-books, as I had recently heard and much enjoyed the tape of Scoop!, Waugh senior’s masterful satire on journalism. It seems that his son, though, is unlikely ever to digest his father’s prose in this aural manner. “Unfortunately, I cannot listen to an audio-book for more than five minutes before falling asleep,” he explained. “It’s because of my Roman Catholic upbringing.” Pause. “You see, I became so accustomed to falling asleep the second the priest began his sermon in church that now, anybody delivering a monologue has the same effect.”

We may all forget about her as she wafts off into Pakistani obscurity – although I doubt it somehow – but Jemima Goldsmith, or Haiqa Kahn as she is now known, is indelibly marked on the brains of the police in Bristol, where Ms Goldsmith was a student. A former crony recalls that Jemima was recently driving in a new white convertible MG back to mundane university life after a cocktail party in London, when (presumably distracted by heady thoughts of Imran Kahn) she got confused at a roundabout. Just like Sherman McCoy in probably the most famous scene of Tom Wolfe’s novel Bonfire of the Vanities, Jemima took a wrong turn. Instead of driving into the smart area of Clifton, she found herself in St Pauls, scene of the Eighties’ riots and very definitely Bristol’s equivalent of the Bronx. Ms Goldsmith, however, is no lily-livered, hesitant Sherman. Quick as a flash, she picked up her mobile and called for police assistance. The boys in blue arrived and escorted her all the way back home – creating a spectacle that caused certain left-wingers among the undergraduates to “want to chuck into the nearest dustbin”.

At the launch of The Way To Win: Strategies for Success in Business and Sport, a tome by the England rugby captain Will Carling and Robert Heller, a middle-aged business consultant and writer, Heller jovially described himself to me as “the old fart” in the authorial process. Luckily – I turned round to check – none of the England rugby selection committee were nearby to hear him.

Carling was utterly charming. I asked him for a few tips for my forthcoming wedding day, seeing that he had only tied the knot a year ago himself. “I remember being more nervous than I’ve ever been for any rugby match,” he said, “but I did manage to absorb every bit of the day. The stag had been two nights before, so I’d had the Friday to recover – which I’d needed. We started off in Julie’s restaurant in Notting Hill (where Prince Charles had his stag) and finished up in the Atlantic Bar. After that,” he sighed and grinned, “my memory fails me.”

Champagne corks are popping at the London offices of Sight & Sound, the monthly film magazine owned by the British Film Institute. Sales have reached an all-time high of 40,000 – not entirely, it has to be said, because of the efforts of all the staff. Aid has arrived from an unexpected source: the Australian TV soap Neighbours. “In the last month or so we have noticed that for some inexplicable reason every time Ramsey Street’s local newsagent is featured, the Sight & Sound sticker is plastered in the middle of the screen. We couldn’t ask for more.” says the magazine’s marketing director, Caroline Moore, adding more soberly: “We wouldn’t have known if one of us had not been reduced to watching it in slow-motion on the video.”

So folks, this is it. The moment you’ve all been waiting for. You will never have to read my guff about my wedding ever again … it happens this Saturday. The dress is ready (to my dressmaker’s horror it has had to be let out, not in), the seating plan is done, the hat for the going-away outfit is bought and, as I write this, I feel sick just thinking about the whole thing. I have not been helped by my colleagues. Last week there were incessant jests about “lambs going to the slaughter”, “virginal sacrifices” and, to top it all, my present, which I found on my desk yesterday morning, is a book. Its title? How to Do Your Own Divorce. Friends … who needs ’em?